Dear Miracle

Setting free the beautiful truth inside.


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Enough

Hubble01

There is space for everything.

Indeed.

For this unmade bed, for dishes in the sink,

for the need to sit here and gather dust

against unfinished chores.

Space enough for not knowing or why

after you’ve counted it out, things transform.

There is space enough, in abundance, in spades,

in dark and light and intense pain, in doubling-over laughter,

or the beggar on the corner, in the taking of a life

or the birthing of a child, in unending grief.

 

In the giving of compassion, in the restoration of

what wounds or is wounded, between any equation,

there is space enough.

 

Inside the life of everything,

on this lesser planet spinning on a wheel of stars,

in the unfathomable blackness of matter or hearts,

in galaxies that collide to craft a larger whole or

exploding supernovas in the shape of a womb,

there’s space for dying so that something might be born.

 

Messy, glorious life—it’s enough.

 

The whole of everything—a luscious trailing vine, keeps on

into blackened holes, over walls, snaking along

impenitent ground, finding its way in the order of things,

becoming and dying all at once.

No matter what in any mind, it’s enough.

 

 

© 2014 Shoshana Wolfington

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Looking Nothing Like That

Letting go & Falling off cliffLove has a way of entering the back door

of your life

when you least expect it.

When you had your life precisely charted out,

your keys in hand, your perfect plans,

while walking out the front door,

when suddenly, BAM!

 

the back door slams against the wall,

like a hurricane coming in.

I was just leaving, you said.

You had to lay down your keys

and your map—because what just came in looked nothing

like that,

but what came in had its own plans for you.

 

While standing there, you’d never guess, looking at the mess,

it was only love come

to save you.

Resistance is futile, it said, surrender best.

 

But of course, it might take a while to learn that.

And when you finally get it

while it’s got you, this thing of your undoing,

this decimator of plans,

it becomes sweetness in your hands,

and the whole splendored universe moves

inside of you.

You wonder how it is you never saw such an endless

midnight sky blinking back at you.

 

Love is a shape-shifting trickster in ways you’d never conceive,

can take you to dizzying vistas you’ve never seen

on some crazy and crooked paths.

 

Love says,

It’s not about what you think it is. It’s more than that.

Love comes to bust down your doors and walls,

shake possibility loose in your mind,

get you to move beyond your self-imposed boundaries

as a citizen of the stars

into your own feral nature.

 

Out beyond the dictates of decorum or certain civilities

waits your aching passion,

but first you must learn to surrender

whatever safety

you think you have, then leap

from the precipice of that life.

 

© 2014 Shoshana Wolfington


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Kindness

This poem, Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye, arrived in my inbox this morning. I have read it before, but now it seems especially appropriate after several years of deep loss. Anymore, nothing makes sense to me apart from kindness in the dealings of human relations, including the relationship I have with myself. I am learning more everyday what it means to be infinitely kind in this kind of exhaustion from loss, beginning here with my own body, emotions and self-care.  

Evening on Puget Sound

Evening on Puget Sound / Photo by S. Wolfington

 

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

 
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

 
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing

inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and

purchase bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend

 

Naomi Shihab Nye


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Dream On

Woman Sits on BeachShe needed dream time. Life had felt like a whip at her back. Death had left its calling card—again and again, more than she cared to recall; and she was tired now, thought she might lie down though there was still a great deal more to do, even with the business of death being cleaned up.

She wasn’t sure if she should wade out into the water where everything was—a sea of possibility, laughter, work and friends. Was she ready to take her dreams and leave the shore of reasons why not? No, she was not, but who is? Sleep called her out quite a bit, and she didn’t know if that was just an excuse to stop or if she merely needed catching up, but giving into dreaming seemed good.

And honestly, who can sleep forever when dreams are burning holes in your head?

Dreams were in order then—a reordering of her days, a visioning, a new place to begin. There was something so right in this, so elemental when you break it down by task: Sleep well, eat whole foods, and walk a lot. Be good to herself, draw it out, breathe, draw it back in, connect with the ground, and write it all down. Say yes when one means yes; and know that saying “no” is not a dangling thread or frayed edge.

Dream on then. There’s time enough for it all in what would come; it was exactly perfect in its imperfection, she thought, while wading in.


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The Last Moment Before Heaven

BeforeHeavenYou have not heard from me lately due to one of the following reasons—pick one:

1.  I have been seeing a great deal of this handsome frog.

2.  I’ve been having delirium tremens from using the wrong detergent.

3.  I have been spending a great deal of time with my mom who is getting ready to make her final transition into the great beyond.

If you picked 1 or 2, sorry! Door number 3 it is, but, hopefully, you already knew that, although I have dated a few handsome frogs in my time.

My mother is getting ready to walk or sail or fly, or whatever it is we do, through that big door called death. We all have to go through it sooner or later.  However, as her daughter, it is extremely challenging to watch. Hospice tells me she is experiencing terminal agitation, which is a stage where the body has run its course but is still fighting to survive. There can be intense anxiousness, twitching, jerking, and an inability to lay still, odd body contortions, combativeness and anger. This can start from hours  up to a couple of weeks preceding death.  She is already a week into it, but had been declining somewhat dramatically the last several weeks before.

There is a beautiful resident cat in the cottage of the memory care facility where my mother lives. His name is Jasper, and he is a silken black very Zen like cat. I am told that when a resident is getting ready to pass, he will climb on their beds and stay there. He starts at the feet, and as it gets closer, he moves to the middle of the bed and at the end he is on the pillow with them. In the past, my mother never appreciated him jumping on her bed, but last week she was found petting him as he lay next to her. Jasper has taken up residence at her feet.

It is difficult to watch someone you have loved your whole life shrink down to nothing and be in so much agony in their slide towards the inevitable. She has been in hell every minute and completely aware of being there even if the person who once lived in her body is no longer there.

I have had to make some painful decisions in these final days as to her care and comfort, and I have to tell you, it has been wrenchingly difficult and guilt producing. There is so much I don’t know here. She has a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate) in place, but what to do about getting water or a little bit of food into them if there is still the willingness or ability to swallow at all? She has been placed on heavy meds in order to keep her comfortable. Otherwise, she is attempting to get up and then repeatedly falling; shockingly, she’s even been found climbing on chairs and sitting on tables. No one would expect this from a very frail and skeletal 95 lb. woman who just two years ago, weighed in at 180 lbs. After several recent small strokes, her speech is unintelligible, but she is still amazingly strong and has a death grip when she decides to hold on to something. She has become a danger to herself at this point, and after getting as much water and a bit of food down her as she has been able to tolerate, she now sleeps, due to the influence of medication.

As her guardian, it has been up to me to tend to all the business of dying. I am either with her, or making phone calls and tying up a lot of loose ends every day. It is a tremendous amount of work, not to mention the emotional business. In the evening, I collapse and cry in my compulsion to try and make her dying as comfortable as possible. This is not always so possible, and there are daily emotional adjustments to her constant and many changes.

Still there have been some funny and/or meaningful things she has been able to say in the middle of it all:

  • She mentioned that she keeps seeing “Dad” hanging around a lot lately and didn’t know why.
  • The other day, my girlfriend, who has adopted my mom as her own and has provided invaluable help as Certified Nursing Assistant, was tending to her. Mom looked up at her and asked, “If you’re my sister, then why are you so short?!” (Her “tall” sister passed away several years ago, and my mom has been mentioning her a lot lately—so she must be hanging around, too.)
  • My same girlfriend told her that she was very beautiful, and my mom straightened herself and replied in a clear distinct voice, “Yes, I AM beautiful!” before slumping over and returning to her unintelligible speech once again.

You have to find reasons to laugh. Yesterday after we left my mother sleeping and after we met in conference with administration and hospice regarding mom’s care where I chose comfort over everything else they could do, my girlfriend and I went to lunch and had a glass of wine. Jokingly, I informed her that taking care of the dying requires lots of wine. She said she thought she would write that into her contract the next time she takes care of a terminally ill patient.

Family and friends have made last minute visits to see her, but it does not appear that she recognizes much of anyone anymore. Yesterday while sitting next to her bed, this same girlfriend who has been there every step of the way through this journey with me, suggested to my mother that she hug me. On cue, my mother who was determined to lean vertically in my direction, put her head on my chest. I put my arms around her and for over an hour we stayed that way—her ear against my beating heart, my fingers playing in her hair, gently caressing her back and arm…it was the last moment of heaven together before she closed her eyes—maybe forever.


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Waiting on the Heart

403026_210248729061804_100002300359908_457295_2010259817_nI cried and cried today. Standing in the hot shower, mixing tears with water, I cried. I prayed.

With tears, went breath. Not for myself particularly did I cry. It was all I could do though, the only thing. 

Quite recently, I have been entrusted with stories. Overcome by the grief of others, I felt myself full with their pain, their stories of death, loss, and unimaginable grief.  Stories told of decisions made I would have argued against had I been asked beforehand–sincerely believing nothing good could come from them.

However, what’s done is done. I have no power over any of it—except as witness to it.

What do I do with all of this? Where do I go and whom do I ask?

Some would advise it not in my best interest to involve myself. Look at the bright side, the light only, the bigger picture.   Be happy, some say, accept what is and move on.

Don’t stare too long into suffering’s great abyss—or the abyss might stare back.

Some might say correction is needed or guilt conferred as if I some kind of judge, jury and executioner over another.

I say not necessarily so.

So much pain, not enough me. It’s feels unbearable at times to hold for long without paying an unbearable price in depression, apathy or anger. The tendency is to pick and choose what we will see; or at the least, we are chosen, unwittingly, without notice–a kind of in-your-face thing.

As humans, it is understandably natural to shy away from what causes pain in us and instead turn our attention to that which brings pleasure—you already know this. Yet there is a Tibetan Buddhist practice called Tonglen you may be familiar with. This is not my solitary focus here, but to be brief, it involves breathing in the pain or the wish for peace and healing of another and then breathing out peace and healing to that same individual or group of individuals. One can also practice this for oneself in identifying with others who also might be feeling the same pain or suffering around the world. We allow the pain to pass through our hearts, transmuting it into healing. At the very least, it changes us. If you are interested, you can Google it for yourself if you choose to learn more.

I am not a seasoned practitioner of Tonglen. I have used it more than a few times over the course of years. Today was one of them. When the pain of self or others becomes unbearable, it is a good therapy to change the way you see things.

This morning I blogged a poem here that came to me first thing upon awakening called, “Tending the Roses of God”. I was speaking about my mother and her descent into the deeper stages of her illness–Alzheimer’s. I referenced the idea of her tending the roses of God while her body slumbered. It occurred to me later my mother is one of the roses of God; and I, along with others, are tending her as she is bathed or fed or loved.

Yet it also came to me that we are each and every one a rose in that same garden of life, that it is our given service to tend one another by learning to bear witness to the pain and suffering of our lives, by offering up our gifts or talents as acts of healing.

In this, my mother has taught me well. It’s been a long and difficult journey I have often resisted. Nevertheless, witness is the wisdom I’ve learned here, the most valuable lesson, the only viable choice I could make in order to survive and not go down in flames of exhaustion and guilt. I’ve heard it said that the grieving we do is merely the love we are feeling making itself known in visceral ways .

I view many kinds of grief as a kind of stripping down to what’s essential, what is real and true.

What disservice would I be doing in my knee jerk attempts to short circuit whatever important work is going on just so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable?

It is this bearing of witness I am speaking about in not only the practice of Tonglen, but in our choices to become present, to hold space for everything that crosses our paths. It is a conscious choice though expansion of the heart, the still presence of witness. I am making a choice to do this, to recognize that my heart has its great capacity to carry the world in it and not be diminished by it, but rather to transmute it. It is a great honor to be entrusted with this and to trust no matter what a thing looks like.

I am choosing more and more, not always necessarily with success, to hold space for another when I am called. It is a life’s practice not learned overnight, but through the course of years and all the things that happen in a life. These others–they are me, my brother and my sister, no matter the story. How could I do less?

This does not necessarily mean there is something for me to do or to change. There is often no instant comfort or practical advice I have to offer;  nothing I can affect or change without creating damage in the long run to myself or them.

I can only sit and be present with the grief or the illness carried by another whose load it is to carry it. I can sit with my discomfort or lack of answers. I can sit and allow my heart to sift through it all, to breathe out peace and healing the best way I know how.

The more difficult task is to remain still, to cease fruitlessly wishing for the proverbial wand of righting wrongs.

I am learning to let go of the need to “do something”—the guilt I’ve been raised with that has so often compelled me into instant action. I know I may still feel the guilt of inaction or answers, but I am choosing to not always allow it to have its way with me, to take time to be reflective and wait on my heart.  I trust implicitly in my heart to do the right thing—but first I must listen and be witness to all it has to tell me.


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Tending the Roses of God

therosesofgod2

My mother, light as paper, stands,

folds, crumples to the floor.

Yellowed parchment skin inked in

purple orbs and reddened tears, evidence

of failed attempts to hold on.

Her feathery body sleeps heavy

against knocks at her door, barely knows

anymore the call of her name.

She does not stir as I press my lips to her cheek,

my love into her heart,

stroke her hair or feet, wondering where she goes

when she sleeps.

Is she walking somewhere in light-filled fields of gold?

Is she speaking in hushed tones with dear ones passed on?

Is she tending the roses of God?

Will someone tell me please?

I want to know if when she awakes,

something of her stays behind in that world

and waits

for her to come home.

© 2013 ~ S. Wolfington